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Music Review: Guru Guru – Känguru

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The early 1970s was drenched in the post-psychedelia haze of the head-expanding previous decade, but no other country than Germany was experiencing the full force of student and leftwing movements as well as the plethora of American and British rock arriving in the nation. Guru Guru combined radical political idealism with free rock feedback, and their 1972 LP Känguru is an aural testament to it.

Creeping into the fuller husks of the record, “Oxymoron” starts out soft-spoken before materializing into a prowler with a walking funk line and ultra-tight drumming. The track blows up with Hendrix-cited riffing before cresting into a light-footed guitar-drum chase. The dynamics of the record range from the devastating to the abstract, but it is this push-and-pull of spectrums that waver such a sonically heavy experience.

Guru Guru also shows residues of more Avant-Garde moments as “Immer Lusting” demonstrates: the shouts of a mad ringleader prelude the circus-like groove that turns into a stone-crushing single note drone. “Baby Cake Walk” is a fuzzed out guitar romp that resets into escalating musical cells combining various post-production experiments such as reverberating swells.

The clockwork backbone of the percussion is commandeered by jazz-drummer cum-rock n’ roll hippy Mani Neumeier, who combines freak out rhythms with other unconventional fills as in “Ooga Booga”, which features an Afro-beat interlude and a Sabbath brontosaurus stomp. Bassist Uli Trepte lays down the corpus with lines that buoy and float while Ax Genrich remains faithful to his moniker by coloring the tracks with slaying licks. The heterogeneous mix of such voices is what warbles out of this brain-melting record.

From a production point of view, the mix is crystal clear with a delightfully thick reverb meandering in the background during most of the hard-rocking passages but manages to flood over in the more experimental passages. The songs also get a six-string makeover, sometimes adding an extra guitar track during the solos making it a wall of sound barrage. Either loud and thick or subtle and flowing, the album achieves a constant balance that always keeps the progressions interesting and the overwhelming astral noises demand future listens.

While the Guru Guru sound that won over early fans through their decadent drug-driven album UFO (with the aptly titled track “Der LSD-Marsch” or “The LSD March”), which managed to obliterate any structuralist notion of the typical verse-chorus-verse found in the, the band’s newer aesthetic reduces some of those jams this time around opting for of a tighter shift bent on functionality. The band has managed to perfect their massive rhythms since their previous album, Hinten. They hath fed on both Zappa and Hendrix records indiscriminately and arrived at the outer edges of rock n’ roll.

Guru Guru masthead for Kanguru: Ax Genrich, Mani Neumeier and Uli Trepte

What’s truly fascinating about the record is its excesses, which are gauged not by how long a jam can last but rather by how many disparate voices and movements are included. Their politically charged live shows aim toward an invigorating social consciousness through spontaneous displays of rock n’ roll against power relations. Kanguru manages to translate the spirit of freedom inherent in such recalcitrant discourses while not coming off too loose.

Guru Guru is in no way the direct spawn of a mechanical intervention between rock n’ roll canons. It is much more that. Much like its desires to work outside traditional and conformist rubrics of structure but not annihilating it completely—it’s only fun if you bend the rules—they stretch out melodically and find their own voice outside the pentatonic schemes of blues rock acts such as Cream and other psych groups.

About Enrique Olivares